Professor Briony Powers was gazing intently into a microscope when she heard the familiar, husky voice. “I’m hoping you’ve got some good news for me, Prof. And I don’t mean with regard to our supper date.The Tompkins case?” Briony looked up. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you on both counts.” “I can cope with the broken heart, but I hoped you’d have established the cause of death by now.” “I have done. Major General Tompkins died from the subcutaneous absorption of a lethal toxin.” “In English, please.” “He was poisoned.” Barclay dropped his head into his hands. “So it was nothing to do with the sword, then?” “Au contraire, it has everything to do with the sword. That was how the poison was introduced into his system.” “You’re saying that the murderer presumably the same person who tampered with the sword to make it pierce the skin put poison on the tip of the blade?” The blonde pathologist nodded. “We’ve got an exact match on traces of the toxin found on the sword with those present in the deceased’s tissue samples.” Barclay whistled slowly. “It must have been very powerful to kill someone in a matter of minutes. What was it?” “I don’t know yet. It hasn’t shown up on any of the standard tests. I’m waiting for the results of some more sophisticated toxicology tests fingers crossed, they’ll shed some light. How’s the investigation going?” “You know how I’m always moaning that finding a credible suspect can be like looking for a needle in a haystack? Well, in the Palmerston case I’m up to my knees in needles. Quite a few people could have tampered with the sword between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. I assume whoever it was would also have applied the poison to the sword tip at that point?” The pathologist shrugged. “I can’t be certain without knowing what the substance is and what its properties are. It’s possible, but it’s more likely that, in order to be certain of success, the murderer applied it just before use. Does that narrow the field?” DI Barclay groaned. “No, the reverse. The props were sitting on a table backstage. All sorts of people were milling about. Which raises another question. I’ve assumed the sword-tamperer and the murderer were one and the same, but it’s now clear that it could be two people working in collusion.” He shook his head wearily. “You’ll get there in the end, John. You always do.” Barclay smiled. “Which is why I haven’t given up on enticing you round for supper. Remember, Prof, we always get our man or, in this case, woman!” ****The following morning, DI Barclay resolved to start his day with a visit to the major general’s stately home. Whenever he was baffled by a case he always found it prudent to fall back on good old-fashioned police work, which started with the search for hard evidence. A rummage through the papers of the deceased might shed a bit more light on matters. Armed with a warrant and steely determination, DI Barclay drove up the impressive, tree-lined drive of Ashbourne Grange. Having been admitted by the housekeeper, he asked to be shown to the study. The walls were lined with photographs detailing the major general’s military career. There was one of a very young and slightly arrogant-looking Timothy Tompkins taken at his passing-out parade at Sandhurst. Another showed a slightly more mature Tompkins dressed in battle fatigues, triumphantly holding a Union Jack against the backdrop of a windswept landscape and steely grey sea. Still another showed a portly and beaming major general in full dress uniform being awarded a military decoration by the Prince of Wales, the DSO he earned on his retiral, DI Barclay surmised. Since the room contained no computer he turned his attention to the filing cabinets, each with folders neatly stacked in strict alphabetical order, as you would expect from a military mind. What he did not expect to find was a bulging folder filed under A with Arabella Financials typed on it. Taking up the housekeeper’s offer of a cup of tea, DI Barclay settled down to peruse the file. He was not disappointed. It was clear from the correspondence between them that, far from repaying her loan, Arabella still owed Tompkins nearly eleven thousand pounds. Judging by the increasingly belligerent tone of his letters, he had become quite threatening in his attitude to recovering the money. The copy of his last note, dated some two weeks previously, made DI Barclay sit bolt upright. Arabella, you have exhausted my patience. If I do not receive the outstanding sum, in full, within the month, you leave me no choice but to take legal action which will result in the loss of your pub. You cannot doubt that I will follow through with this threat. I suggest you pay up now, or brace yourself to face the consequences. A powerful motive for murder. A return visit to the Fox and Hounds was definitely in order.